HSE plans for vaccine roll-out have changed up to 17 times already due to changes to deliveries and the vaccine priority lists, the head of the HSE told the Oireachtas Health Committee on Tuesday.
Mr Paul Reid defended the HSE’s handling of the roll-out, describing the start of this year as “challenging” and “frustrating” at times.
An initial target to have 1.7m doses delivered by the end of March is now out of reach, he said. And a revised target of 1.24m could also be missed if erratic supplies continue from vaccine manufacturers, Mr Reid said.
“Realistically we’re looking at 1.1 million, going into 1.2 million in the first week of April,” he predicted.
Mr Reid said the IDA Ireland had looked into potentially making vaccines in Ireland, but it was not deemed feasible.
Senator Martin Conway asked why in one case a GP practice in Sneem, Co Kerry received enough doses of the Moderna vaccine to vaccinate 300 elderly people instead of just the over-85s.
He said: “This was great for the people of Sneem but it gets everyone’s back up.”
Damien McCallion, Senior Operations Lead for the rollout of the COVID-19 Vaccine Programme addressed this.
He said due to logistics and the fragility of mRNA vaccines including Moderna there is a minimum number that can be delivered at any one time.
As a result, some practices with very low numbers of Over-85s are getting enough doses to start working on other people aged Over-70, he said.
Pressure from Covid-19 is easing on the health services, and the HSE hopes to soon restore normal services, the head of the HSE told the Oireachtas Health Committee on Tuesday.
Paul Reid also defended the vaccine roll-out saying that Ireland is in the top five countries in Europe at this point for numbers vaccinated.
He said: “Thankfully, all major indicators of the disease are now trending downwards, although we remain alert to the impact of new variants of Covid-19.”
Looking at these indicators, he said up to March 7, a total of 223,219 cases and 4,422 deaths due to Covid-19 have been recorded in Ireland. The 14-day incidence rate is now 172.3 per 100,000, down from almost 1,500 in mid-January.
On March 8, there were 419 people with Covid-19 in hospital and 103 receiving ICU care, he said.
This number dropped below 400 on Tuesday morning - the first time in over four months that this has happened.
Regarding the vaccine roll-out, he said there have been challenges but the programme is moving ahead.
He said: “Our ongoing planning and roll-out includes operating models for GPs, pharmacies and vaccination centres, alongside the corresponding ICT, infrastructure and recruitment mobilisation.
“Thirty-seven HSE vaccination centres are agreed and the required infrastructure is being finalised, with self-referral processes planned.
Most GPs have now received their first vaccine delivery, he said, catering for those in the community aged over 85.
“I am delighted to report that residents in Long Term Residential Care Facilities, front-line healthcare workers, and people over 85 years of age have largely received their first dose,” he said.
Mr Reid referred to the past year as a “challenging period” and stressed that the need to change plans remains central to the vaccine roll-out.
He updated the Committee on the HSE Antigen Working Group which is validating these tests for use in workplaces, having trialled them in healthcare settings and on a limited basis at meat plants.
Mr Reid said: “While we know it has been extremely difficult for everyone we are asking the public to stick with us over the coming weeks and continue to follow the public health guidance to help supress the spread of the virus.”